Last update: 12-Dec-2013 4:50 am
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Tobagonians boast of quality care
A shortage of trained biomedical technicians to repair medical equipment and non-availability of parts locally have been affecting the smooth running of the new Scarborough hospital in Tobago. This was the explanation the Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA) gave about the malfunctioning of the X-ray machine at the $735 million hospital.
After 14 years of allegations of cost overruns and corruption, the “state-of-the-art” hospital was opened at the beginning of this year. But, last week, the X-ray machine was down and patients were turned away and told to return. Shornell Thomas, an 18-year old student who had gone to the spanking new facility set on a hill in Scarborough for an X-ray last Wednesday, walked out of the hospital sadly around midday.
Thomas, accompanied by his mother, Dianne, told the T&T Guardian he went to the hospital after he began experiencing pain on the left side of his back. “After waiting since 9 o clock this morning, I only just saw the doctor. He told me to get an X-ray but went I went to the department, I was told the machine was not working, to come back tomorrow to see if it was working.” His mother said: “It’s the same old system.”
Yesterday, Thomas told the Guardian that he called the hospital Thursday and was told the machine still was not working, “They told me they will call me when it’s fixed,” he said. Asked if he tried to get an X-ray elsewhere, he said: “No, I’m just holding on until they fix it.” He said medical personnel at the hospital told him the pain in his back may have been caused by lifting up something heavy. He said the pain has not returned since.
Several people, some employed at the hospital, told the T&T Guardian last Wednesday the services and treatment were good. One man even shouted: “That’s the Hyatt!” A woman who identified herself as B Williams-Groome and said she was the sister-in-law of Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Secretary of Health Claudia Groome-Duke was in high praise of the facility. “It’s first class. And even if she wasn’t my sister-in-law, it still good.”
TRHA officials agreed to an interview with the T&T Guardian about the hospital. John Solomon, general manager, Organisational Effectiveness, said the hospital has two X-ray facilities, a general X-ray machine and a mobile unit. “The general X-ray machine is down and parts to repair it have to come from Trinidad. This is the only hospital in the country that has electronic parts on its X-ray machine,” he explained.
TRHA CEO Paula Chester-Cumberbatch, looking at her cellphone, said she had just received a text message saying the machine was fully repaired and fully functional. She said the TRHA has an agreement with Biomedical Technologies, a company in Trinidad, to supply parts and repair services. John continued: “The hospital’s capacity to repair is a struggle,” Soloman said. “We have to depend on parts to come from Miami and as far as France.”
Chief Medical Officer Dr Nathaniel Duke said the Scarborough Hospital was highly technologically advanced and, hence, there was a “steep learning curve.” “The transition had hiccups but the actual operation of the hospital is much more efficient,” he said. Bryan Solomon, general manager, Operations, said the THA is the largest employer of staff at the hospital and technical staff had to be sourced outside of Tobago.
Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan said he was aware of the shortage of biomedical technicians in T&T and said he has spoken to the Ministry’s Chief Medical Officer about finding a solution. He said while there are biomedical people trained in research, they are limited in the technical aspects. Khan said the Ministry planned to introduce courses in this area early next year to train locals.
The National Insurance Property Development Company Ltd, (Nipdec) took over the management of the hospital project from former contractors, NH International, which had started the hospital under the former PNM administration. The project was stalled for several years with allegations that the cost had jumped from $135 million to $474 million. During this time, the incomplete hospital remained a white elephant and very ill Tobagonians had to be flown to Trinidad for healthcare.
When Nipdec restarted construction of the hospital, the Ministry had responsibility for its completion and handing over to the THA. But in December last year, nearing the completion of the hospital, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Orville London complained that the hospital was a political football, saying up until then it still was not vested to the THA. He said it was the responsibility of the TRHA to deliver healthcare to the people of Tobago.
But Khan said, as far as he was aware, the hospital was handed over to the TRHA: “It was not an official handover, it was a paper handover.” The TRHA declined comment on this issue and efforts to reach London and Groome-Duke yesterday were futile. Earlier this year, food for patients had to be cooked at the old Scarborough Hospital and transported daily, at exorbitant costs, to the new facility because its kitchen was still incomplete.
Patients also complained that they were forced to bathe with cold water because of a defect in the plumbing at the hospital. But last Wednesday, the TRHA said all problems were sorted out. Chester-Cumberbatch said food was being cooked at the kitchen by the hospital’s dietary staff since Carnival Monday. Solomon summed up the services at the hospital this way; “We are in a much better place than ten months ago.
“The feedback from everybody is that it is a high-quality care facility. We take great pride in the clean surroundings and patient-friendly staff.” The hospital won a Golden Award in an initiatives category in a recent Ministry of Health function. A nurse at the hospital, Roxanne Moore-Sefort, copped professional of the year. Chester-Cumberbatch, addressing concerns about the waiting time to see a doctor, said the hospital operated according to global standards in this respect.
“We operate on a triage system, levels one, two and three, where patients are seen according to their medical status,” she said. “Emergency cases are dealt with first. Those with illnesses that are not life-threatening are referred to primary healthcare at the islands.”
There are 17 health centres and five outreach centres in Tobago. “For these patients, seeing a doctor within three hours is normal response time.”
Solomon said, as in Trinidad and the rest of the world, there is a dire need for neuro-surgeons and other specialist services on the island. Patients needing neurosurgery have to be flown out of the island to RHAs in Trinidad, he said. If the RHAs cannot deal with the cases, the patients are referred to private medical institutions. Chester-Cumberbatch, welcoming the Ministry of Health’s coming health card, said it was long overdue.
The card will contain a patient’s medical data and will provide doctors anywhere with vital information in their treatment. Duke said the oncology centre, based at the old hospital, also won an award. He said the centre has no problem with a shortage of chemotherapy drugs. There was a shortage of cancer drugs at the St James Medical Complex in Trinidad. Khan said the ministry was investigating suspected leakages of the drugs out of the complex to private medical facilities.
Duke said the HIV/Aids statistics on the island were between 1.8 and 2.2 per cent per 100.000 of the population and was stable. There were claims that the disease on the island, where tourism is the main revenue earner, was high. Chester-Cumberbatch said, “We are all pleased with the new facility.”
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